90th Anniversary of the Traction Avant — Clermont-Ferrand, France — May 8-11, 2024

By George Dyke….

Traction Avant models of every variety gathered to celebrate 90 years since their introduction. The meeting at Circuit de Charade, Puy de Dome, France (above the city of Clermont-Ferrand), was an astounding and joyous event.

Over 1,030 Tractions were booked and 2,220 people registered – 19 nationalities – with 960 people registered for the gala dinner on Saturday, May 11.

I attended the 75th anniversary of the Traction Avant in Arras, France in 2009 and also the 80th Anniversary in September 2014 at Le Ferte Vidame, France, but this 90th Anniversary promised to be more spectacular as owners were encouraged to drive their Tractions on the race track, considered by Sir Stirling Moss as the nicest circuit in the world.

I was also given the privilege to get there from London, UK in a 1938 Traction Big Six. Citroënvie member Manny Motoshaw called me in the fall of last year and asked if I would like to accompany him and his friend Richard Seggons on the trip there and back. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity.

Richard Seggons final checks the Big Six.

We started off on Tuesday morning from Manny’s house in Crawley (East London) heading to Dover for the ferry crossing to Calais.

Richard Seggons and Manny Motashaw on the way to Dover.

Along the way we passed a Traction in apparent distress on the side of M25. Sara Goodyear Fleming was watching her husband attend to a radiator hose that needed a re-seating. A top-up of water to her Light 15 and they were on their way.

Manny convinced us that Club Lounge on the ferry was the way to travel, so after a full meal there we were set for our travels in France.

View a 500 pic gallery of the trip here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/62790594@N03/albums/72177720317023824/

We wanted to avoid Paris traffic so our plan was to head toward Arras and if we were making good time, stay overnight along the way. We exited the A1 at Senlis and pulled into a Best Western Hotel that had rooms available, but at 139 euros a night and with little French charm, we decided we could do better and continued southeast along N330 trying a B&B in the next village that was unfortunately booked. Traveling about 15 kms further to Emenonville — 3rd time was the charm. I noticed there is a listing for a Château d’Ermenonville that had rooms for a very reasonable price of just 134 euros a night — and what a château it was!

Adding Traction elegance to Château d’Ermenonville

A fortress first appeared on this site in 987, during the age of Hugh Capet, king of the Franks. Indeed, it was a popular place for the French kings to visit: King Louis XI often stayed here in the 15th century, as well as King Henri IV in the 16th.

By the 18th century Claude-Louis Lombard, the lord of the castle, changed its structure profoundly from its fortress origins to a grand home suitable for the tastes of the Enlightenment. A tower was pulled down, larger windows set in, and sides extended. In 1763 the marquis René Louis de Girardin took ownership of the property and modernized the interiors and landscaped the surrounding park, creating an extensive English garden. His guest lists included such luminaries as Marie Antoinette, Gustav III of Sweden.

Much to our surprise, from 1932 to 1955 the château was owned by Ettore Bugatti, except during World War II when the Germans occupied the the castle. Bugatti used it not only as his residence, but as a showroom for his Bugatti automobiles. He would invite clientele to come from Paris whereby he would assess if they were suitable to own one! In the dining room there was a photo probably taken between 1927 to 1933 showing a Bugatti Type 41, better known as the Royale, along with 4 other Bugattis.

The following morning we stopped at a local boulanger and patisserie in the town for coffee and croissants. We came out to find a lovely French lady admiring our Traction. In chatting with her she mentioned that she and her husband, a local historian, live in the château adjacent to the Château d’Ermenonville. She mentioned that there were not only Bugatti automobiles on the estate, but that Bugatti had a love for horses. (Probably the Bugatti horse carriages that sold at the recent Mullin Automotive Museum auction were sourced from there.) She invited us to pass by on the way back for drinks if we had the time.

From Ermenonville we traveled south through charming French towns on secondary roads for the most part. As we were driving I remembered that Pierre Boulanger, vice-president and as chairman of Citroën from 1935 until his death in 1950, died in a car accident driving a Traction 15-6 coming north from Clermont-Ferrand and there is a steele (monument) marking the accident on D2003, the road we were on. We found it and stopped to pay tribute and clear away some of the obscuring plant growth.

Arriving at our Clermont-Ferrand hotel, we met up with some members of the British Citroen Car Club and a fellow, Philip Roger, who had come from Melbourne Australia. He was without a car but back home has a Traction convertible, Light 15, a Big Six, several Lea Francis, a Land Rover and a Mini Moke. Multiple Traction owner, Larry Lewis from Toronto Canada, was also staying at the hotel and as both he and Roger needed a ride we packed them into the rear seat of the Big Six for the drive to the Circuit de Charade where the 90th anniversary was being held.

Philip Roger, Richard Seggons and Larry Lewis.

We definitely utilized the Big Six’s torque as it was quite an uphill climb to from Clermont-Ferrand to the entrance gate at the Charade.

When we arrived, it was truly an awesome sight — Tractions everywhere in 4 large parking lots as well as lining all along the roads to them.

Above all of that, was the entrance to the race track, with a staging area and pit row. It was there where parts vendors had set up. There was a museum display dedicated to the Traction Avant, a boutique for event souvenirs and Traction books, and a couple of bays in the pit area dedicated to Traction repairs and servicing.

It was astounding and what was also notable is that there were only a few cars that were trailered to the Charade. Many owners queued up multiple times throughout the event to take their Tractions on the race track.

An opening reception on Thursday night gave us the opportunity to meet up with Citroënvie members Michael and Candace Andrews, who flew in from Monrovia California and are owners of a Traction 11BL there.

As for the Tractions at the event, there were some rare ones with most interesting features:

The Madame Michelin 15-6 cabriolet was displayed in its pristine restored condition.

While looking at it I met Denis Huille from the Citroen Heritage Conservatory (Le Conservatoire).

We have written in Citroenvie about its North American history a few times. Nico Michon, who purchased the Madame Michelin 15-6 cabriolet from Red Dellinger in the USA and brought it back to Europe for restoration prior to selling it to a German collector, was there and able to clarify one thing I had always been curious about. It now has the “pop-out” trafficator turn signal indicators in the side body behind the doors, but in the photos taken in the USA they are not present. Nico said that when the body has stripped to repaint, the mounts for them were present, so presuming trafficators were fitted originally, the decision was made to include them.

A 15-6 cabriolet was displayed in the parking lot that was probably one of the 4 original ones made. It showed no sign of restoration and examining the paint that had chipped around the trunk there appeared to be just primer and one coat of maroon colour paint.

Traction Avant historian and author Pascal Berthelot was on hand with 3 publications (in French).  As we have previously written about in Citroënvie, he has cumulated a census on surviving Tractions and written 2 books; “Toutes les Traction Avant ont une histoire” — Volumes 1 and 2.  Volume 1 devoted to the 7A / 7B / 7S from 1934, and the 7C from 1934 to 1941, and Volume 2 covering 11 Légères from 1934 to 1942.   His latest effort, “L’ABC Des Traction Avant”, traces the evolution of 7, 11 and 15 series models from 1934 to 1957, helping enthusiasts better understand and identify their differences.

We observed first-hand that early 1934 model year Traction sedans had no rain gutter over the doors — a feature that was added in 1935 most likely from damp customer experiences getting into and out of them on damp days.

Citroënvie member Ronny Kienhuis drove his 1935 Traction Limousine from Normandy — a 6 hour trip. Ronny’s Traction is rare in that it has symmetrical front and rear side doors. This was one of the features that Pierre Boulanger nixed when first being placed in control of Citroën in 1935. Instead the rear passenger doors of the large body “Normale” Tractions were used for cost savings and to allow strength to be added before the rear fender. As the “Normale” doors were scallop-cut at the edge to fit the arch of the rear fender, Citroën engineers had about 6” of space where the doors are shy of the rear fenders.

Also on early Tractions up until the 1935 model year, it is possible to access the fuel tank on either side of the externally mounted rear spare tire, but in 1936 the left fuel filler cap was removed, and filling the fuel tank had to be done using the filler on the right side. (Manny takes great pride that on his 1938 Traction Big Six as the the fuel fill is still on left side, indicating it is an early Big Six that the Slough factory in England was still toying with as to where the fuel fill tube should be.)

Speaking of rare, I believe a record was set for the number of Faux Cabriolet Tractions (the 2-door hardtop coupe with an outboard “rumble seat” in the rear) attending a Traction meet.

There was one large “Normale’ bodied Faux Cabriolet. Longer on the rear sides before the back fender, and wider. You only had to look at it to understand why that model, produced in even more limited quantity, contributed to the company’s bankruptcy.

And of course there were over two dozen “regular” Traction Cabriolets, a few custom bodied ones, a surprising number of Commerciale models and a super rare Danish 11B van.

One Traction that caught our attention was a 15-6 owned by Kurt Vialon, a German fellow who modified a DS engine block to 6 cylinders (and not by just cutting away one cylinder of 2 engine blocks and joining them, or by tacking 2 cylinders on one end). He fabricated a custom head, fitted dual carbs, reworked the water pump to have 8 blades (not 6) adding an extra grease point, and made an exhaust manifold that is a work of art! Kurt said that 155 km/hr is easily achievable on the Autobahn.

While Kurt no doubt enjoyed the most power on the race track, that didn’t dissuade other Traction owners taking 15 minutes to do a few laps. Here are links to 4 videos I made:


On Friday a special race was held on the track – to go the maximum distance on 2 litres of fuel.

On Saturday, there was a charitable drive where the public could purchase a ticket to be stuffed in a Traction and driven around the track. I managed to get a 2 lap ride with Denis from Belgium in his 1938 15-6. Here are links to 3 videos I shot of that adventure.


Above the grandstand was a conference room where presentations included:

  • A History of the Charade Circuit by Jean-Paul Taillandier
  • The genesis of the Traction (in English) by John Pressnell author of many automotive books including those Tractions and DS.
John Pressnell
  • My Tractionnist life – told by Olivier de Serres, author of many Traction books including “ Le Grand Livre de la Traction” and introducing his latest book commemorating the 90th Anniversary of the Traction Avant
Olivier de Serres
  • Michelin History presented by Pierre-Gabriel Gonzalez
  • The Citroën/Michelin collaboration in 1934 to finalize the development of the Traction Avant by Stéphane Nicolas, historian
  • A presentation to honour Jacques Bingen, Résistance fighter and brother-in-law of André Citroën. Jacques is a hero of the “French Résistance”. He was head of the movement in the Clermont-Ferrand area. On May 12 1944, Bingen was betrayed by Belgian double agent Alfred Dormal and captured at Clermont-Ferrand. He committed suicide by swallowing a capsule of cyanide rather than risk breaking under torture. His body was never found. His grandson André de Saint-Sauveur was present and discussed his father’s life achievements with Philippe Citroën (grandson of André Citroën).
André de Saint-Sauveur (L) and Philippe Citroën (R).
  • My grand-father, André Citroën, by Henri-Jacques Citroën, Grandson of André Citroën. From Citroën gears, the Javel Factory and of course, the Traction Avant, the last stroke of genius of André Citroën.
Henri-Jacques Citroën.

I was able to express my appreciation and thanks to Jean-Louis Poussard, Président de La Traction Universelle, the main organizer of the event.

Jean-Louis had to hobble around — on the mend from a recent skiing accident.

Some viewed it as sacrilege, but this Traction “rat rod” certainly drew attention. The owner, a metal artist, was quick to point out the sorry state of the shell when he dragged it out of the woods, and took pride in the fact that he created such a monster now powered by a BMW V12 engine and with air suspension.

My award for the most tasteful modification goes to the interior of this Paris-built metal dashboard Traction given a wood-grain paint treatment to deliver the aura of a Slough built model. Kudos to also tastefully integrating oil pressure and temperature gauges left and right of the speedometer.

The Gala dinner on Saturday night was a grand affair, with attendees gathering for champagne and hors d’oeuvres served outside the dining hall and a four course dinner offered between speeches and live music entertainment.

It was a great way to cap off the event.

On Sunday morning we made an express run to England that proved to be a bit longer than expected due to heavy traffic and 3-1/2 hour wait for the next ferry at Calais. Nevertheless the trip was memorable and I took over the driving a good part of the way!

10 years from now will be the 100th anniversary of the Traction Avant, and one can only hope that the celebratory event will be as fun-filled as this one.

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